Archive for April, 2011

Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez: New rookie wage system “seems like common sense”

Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, an 11-time Pro Bowler in 14 NFL seasons, discussed yesterday the potential benefits of a rookie wage system.

“I think that would cut down on a lot of problems if you let these rookies come in and earn that money,” Gonzalez said Tuesday on Sports Talk Radio 610 in Houston. “That’s kind of similar to what the NBA does. There is a cap.

“For a rookie to come in and make $60-70 million guaranteed, I say – and everybody can agree with that — is absolutely ridiculous,” Gonzalez continued. “They have not played a down on that field. You might as well take that money and give that to the veterans and maybe that solves some type of problem where we do give back a little bit to the ownership. Like I said, that’s just my opinion. I don’t know what’s going on with these negotiations. Maybe it has been bought up. Maybe they can’t do it for whatever reason, but it seems like the common sense answer right there.” 

What is average NFL player’s career length? Longer than you might think, Commissioner Goodell says

Commissioner Roger Goodell clarified a myth about the average career length of an NFL player during a recent conference call with season ticket holders of the San Diego Chargers.

One fan on the conference call said she has read many times that the average career length of an NFL player is about three years, adding it seemed so many played much longer than that. She asked Commissioner Goodell about his knowledge of NFL career length.

“There is a little bit of a misrepresentation or a misunderstanding on that.  Frequently, it is said that the average career is about 3.5 years.  In fact, if a player makes an opening day roster, his career is very close to six years,” Commissioner Goodell said. “If you are a first-round draft choice, the average career is close to nine years.  That 3.5-year average is really a misrepresentation.  What it adds is a lot of players who don’t make an NFL roster and it brings down the average.”

According to a recent NFL Management Council analysis of players who entered the NFL between 1993 and 2002, the average career length for a player who is on his club’s opening-day roster as a rookie is 6.0 years.

That 6.0 average is 88 percent higher than NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith’s recent claim.

“The fundamental principle of our business model necessarily includes that every player only plays for an average of 3.2 years,” Smith said in a March 31 forum with MBA students at the University of Virginia.

Following are the facts from the career-length analysis (using regular-season and postseason rosters):

  • The average career length for a player who makes a club’s opening-day roster (active/inactive roster or injured reserve) in his rookie season is 6.0 years.
  • The average career length for a player with at least three pension-credited seasons* is 7.1 years (*a player receives a pension credit for each season in which he spends at least three games on an active/inactive roster and/or injured reserve).
  • The average career length for a first-round draft pick is 9.3 years.
  • The average career length for a player who is selected for or plays in at least one Pro Bowl is 11.7 years.  Of the 318 players who began careers between 1993 and 2002 and made the Pro Bowl at least once, 113 of those players – 36 percent – were on a club’s roster in 2010.
  • There are 288 players who began their careers between 1993-2002 who were on a club’s roster in 2010.

Following is a team-by-team list of the 288 players who began their careers between 1993-2002 and were on a 2010 NFL roster:
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Commissioner Goodell continues series of fan conference calls

Commissioner Roger Goodell concluded this afternoon his third conference call of the week with fans.  Following calls earlier in the week with Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns fans, Goodell jumped on a call today with fans of the San Diego Chargers.  Goodell is slated to make calls next Wednesday with fans of the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers.

While NFL labor negotiations are top of mind with fans, the calls also provide the Commissioner the opportunity to thank fans for supporting their team and the NFL.

I want to thank you for your support not only for the Chargers but also the NFL.  We know how important you are to the NFL,” Goodell said this afternoon. “We’re going to continue to work hard to get this collective bargaining issue resolved and continue to bring great football to you all.  We appreciate your support in every way you give it to us so thank you very much.”


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Commissioner Goodell kicks off series of fan conference calls

Roger Goodell has engaged fans in various ways since becoming NFL commissioner in 2006. He has met hundreds of fans in fan forums, conducted chats on NFL.COM, sent fans letters and emails and conversed via Twitter (@nflcommish). Goodell, who answered fan mail as a young intern in the 1980’s, is now employing an old-fashioned,  yet effective medium to reach fans – conference calls.

Beginning Wednesday night with a call with Miami Dolphins’ fans, the Commissioner is conducting a series of conference calls this spring with season ticket holders to listen to their concerns and answer their questions.  Goodell has calls slated for today with the Cleveland Browns, tomorrow with the San Diego Chargers and next week with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.

Below is a transcript of the wide-ranging conversation with Dolphins fans, including questions regarding the state of negotiations, potential changes to the offseason, and the personal conduct policy. He was even able to talk some real football which he gladly welcomed, saying, “I’m glad to hear an officiating question.  It has been a few months since I’ve had one.”


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NFL letter to U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson

The following letter was sent yesterday by NFL outside legal counsel David Boies to U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson:

                                                                                   April 7, 2011

The Honorable Susan Richard Nelson
United States District Court
774 Federal Building
316 N. Robert Street
St. Paul, MN 55106

Re:  Brady et. al. v. NFL, et al. 
Court File No. 11-CV-00639 SRN-JJG

Eller, et al. v. NFL, et al.  
Court File No. 11-CV-00748 SRN-JJG

Dear Judge Nelson:

This letter is being sent in anticipation of tomorrow’s conference call with the Court to discuss mediation. 

I think it is fair to say that the difference between the parties’ positions is that we believe the mediation should proceed under the auspices of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, and opposing counsel believe that the Court should appoint a different mediator.   In either case, the purpose of the mediation would be to negotiate a settlement not only of the issues raised in the complaints, but also the many other issues that must be resolved to permit the upcoming season to be played and for the league to operate effectively. 

In its letter to Mr. Quinn of this morning, the NFL made clear that it would provide “reasonable and appropriate assurances” that the players’ participation in negotiations with the FMCS would be without prejudice to their legal position and will not be used against them in any way.  We therefore believe that the League has already offered the kind of assurances that were sought by plaintiffs’ counsel in their letters to Your Honor.

There are substantial reasons to have these issues addressed in the context of a mediation conducted by the FMCS.  As Your Honor probably knows, the NFL and NFLPA spent 17 days in FMCS-supervised mediation, during which time the Director of the FMCS (himself a Presidential appointee) and his principal deputy gained a thorough and detailed understanding of the many issues that must be resolved. Put simply, the FMCS has a 17-day head start over any other potential mediator. And given that time is of the essence, that is of great importance. 

The FMCS also brings to the table expertise, neutrality, and valuable experience with the parties and the issues that must be addressed as part of any overall resolution, including scores of issues not raised in the lawsuits themselves.  We cannot see any reason to start back at square one with a different mediator. Instead, we respectfully suggest that the proper course is to proceed promptly with mediation before the FMCS because it offers the best prospect for a prompt and successful resolution of these and the many other issues that must be addressed. 

I would emphasize that we are not asking the players in any way to abandon their chosen litigation forum or to compromise any of their legal claims.  In that light, we would respectfully request that the Court consider using its good offices to encourage the players to resume (or in the case of the Eller plaintiffs, to join) mediated negotiations using the established neutral expertise and procedures of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service.

                                                                        Respectfully Submitted,

                                                                        David Boies

NFL statement on letter to players’ attorneys:

“Our letter to the players’ attorneys today proposes negotiations with owner involvement under the supervision of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George Cohen. A copy has been sent to Judge Nelson. The goal of the discussions would be to resolve all outstanding issues and achieve a global resolution. As part of our proposal, we offered to give the players assurances that they will not compromise any legal position as a result of the discussions.”

Transcript of David Boies’ post-hearing media briefing

Following is a transcript of NFL outside counsel David Boies’ media briefing after today’s hearing in St. Paul, Minnesota.

NFL OUTSIDE LEGAL COUNSEL DAVID BOIES

POST-HEARING MEDIA BRIEFING

April 6, 2011

I will keep this short, because it has been a long day I know for all of you.  We had a long argument.  The judge listened.  The judge was very well prepared, asked a lot of good questions of both sides.  Our basic position was, as it has been, that we believe that these kind of matters ought to be settled at the collective bargaining table and not in a Federal Court.  We have asked the court to deny the injunction that the Players Association has asked for.  The Judge said that she would take it under advisement; that it would take a couple of weeks, at least, to make a decision — which is pretty obvious with a case of this importance.  So we will be awaiting that decision with the same anticipation that you will.

 

On if NFL is willing to go to the federal table as she encouraged:

We have said from the beginning that we are prepared to resume collective bargaining.  The Federal Mediation service has a lot of experience and is ready to go.  All it takes is for the Players Association, formerly known as the union, to decide that they are prepared to come back and bargain.

On Jim Quinn’s interpretation that the Judge’s offer for mediation as talks for a settlement of the litigation and if he sees it that way:

They have been trying to avoid collective bargaining, so it does not surprise me that is the union’s position.  However, I think that if we are going to get a resolution, if we are going to get the people back to the bargaining table so that we can reach a settlement and have a football season; it is going to be necessary that we do it in a normal collective bargaining context.  The Federal Mediation Service does this for a living.  They have been doing it for a living on this particular matter.  They have seventeen days of expertise.  They are the people that ought to be putting this forward.  If we can just get the union to sit down with us, we can make a lot of progress. 

 

On knowing which side Judge Nelson favors either side following questioning:

You really can’t.  I have been doing this for 45 years.  I have never been able to figure out from a judge’s questions exactly where they are coming from.  Sometimes they ask you tough questions because they are coming out the other way.  Sometimes they ask you tough questions so that you will give them an answer that they think will support what their previous position is.

All you can say is the judge was very well prepared.  She asked very good questions of both sides.  Trying to read into where she is coming from, I am not able to do that.

On progress towards discussing a new deal considering NFLPA counsel Jeff Kessler’s comment that Judge Nelson suggested reaching a settlement to the class-action settlement rather than CBA negotiations:

From what Jeff Kessler says, apparently it hasn’t because we don’t need a settlement to a lawsuit; what we need is a collective bargaining agreement so that players can go back playing and the league can put on games.  Until we have that, we are not going to make any progress.  Going in and having Jeff Kessler, me, Michael Hausfeld, Jimmy Quinn and other people debate the merits of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, the antitrust exemption, the statutory exemption and the non-statutory exemption standings and all of the kinds of things that lawyers get paid to argue about is not going to move forward the issue that is really important, which is reaching a labor management settlement.  That is what has to happen.  That can happen if we just get back to bargaining.

The Federal Mediation (and Conciliation) Service, as I said before, are the people who do it for a living.  They do it in industry after industry.  They are the people who can facilitate a settlement.  We ought to be taking advantage of that.  Obviously, we’ve got to go back and talk to our clients, I believe the league would be willing to go back immediately and talk in those contexts. 
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Jeff Pash on negotiations: “We have continuously moved toward their position in an effort to reach an agreement”

NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash said in an op-ed piece in today’s Chicago Tribune that the NFL continuously moved toward the players’ union’s position and made a proposal last month that could have been the foundation for a future of prosperity for both players and teams.

“When the NFL Players Association walked away from the bargaining table and abandoned an open and transparent negotiation process, it launched the game into a risky and uncertain legal morass,” Pash wrote.

“Collective bargaining is about give and take,” he continued. “Candidly, there can be heated discussions and maddening fits and starts, and it takes a lot of time and hard work. There is nothing glamorous about it.”

“[The March 11] proposal could be the groundwork for a future of prosperity for the teams and players alike, for improvements in the game and for great competitive play for our fans,” Pash added. “We have been negotiating with the union for nearly two years. Over that period of time, we have continuously moved toward their position in an effort to reach an agreement. Our differences must ultimately be settled by both sides. All a court case can do is delay and confuse the process. This should be settled in the bargaining room, not the courtroom.”

Following is the complete op-ed in today’s Chicago Tribune.
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FACT CHECK: DeMaurice Smith at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business

NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith recently spoke with MBA students at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.  Smith discussed a wide range of issues on the NFL’s labor negotiations.

Following is a FACT CHECK on a selection of Smith’s answers:

Smith: “You never stop being a trial lawyer. So, really that is the posture of the case. The league is opposing the injunction. If they win, the lockout continues. 1,900 players and their families will be out of work. Their health insurance has been cancelled.”

FACT: All NFL players are eligible to continue their current NFL health insurance under the federal law known as COBRA, under which affected employees are entitled to continue their employer-provided health insurance coverage at their own or their union’s expense. To date, 1,192 players have signed up for COBRA and they have until May 10 to do so.

Smith: “Not even possibly” – answer to question: “At the end of that two-year negotiation period before the lockout, you called the NFL’s final offer possibly the worst deal in sports history?”

FACT: The proposal owners made to the players on March 11 would have paid players $19-20 billion in cash and benefits over the next four years (2011-2014) – a 14 percent increase representing an additional $2 billion compared to the past four years. In addition, the proposal would have:

  • Reduced the offseason program by eliminating five weeks and cutting OTAs from 14 to 10 days.
  • Put limits on full-padded practices in the regular season. 
  • Increased days off. 
  • Increased retirement benefits so that more than 2,000 retired players would have received almost a 60% increase in their pension benefit. 
  • Offered players the opportunity to have lifetime coverage in NFL medical plan. 
  • Offered for the first time to revise disciplinary system so that a third-party neutral arbitrator resolves all drug and steroids cases. 
  • Offered improvements in the disability plan, the 88 Plan, and post-career benefits, including education and career transition programs.

Smith: On how much the March 11 NFL proposal would reduce the players’ share of revenue:  “The day that you sign that deal, the 50 percent number that we had since 1987 goes automatically before the ink is dry on the deal to 45 percent. In Year 1. The deal that we would have signed with the owners would have probably been about a 10-year deal. The ultimate result of us signing this deal would be that within 10 years that 50 percent would be down to 40 percent of all revenue.  As you march forward from that point, by the time we got to the 15th year of a deal, you could see players getting shares of revenues that were in the 30 percent range.”

FACT: Smith’s statement is based on the flawed assumption that the current deal — which everyone agrees was one-sided for the players — would have stayed in place and just marched ever onward with no re-balancing. It assumes revenue growth that may or may not materialize. No one knows how many, if any, new stadiums will be built, as one example. There are none currently in the pipeline. The statement ignores the explicit commitment in the NFL’s March 11 proposal to a “true up/reset” in 2015, the same year the union wanted to reset the share coming off a player cost of $161 million per club in 2014, which was the union’s requested number for that year. The March 11 proposal had the 2011 cap at $141 million (union was at $151 million;  NFL at $131 million; NFL clubs said “we’ll split the difference”), rising to $161 million in 2014 (meeting the union’s demand for 2014). That’s a 14 percent increase in three years ($20 million per club) and $2 billion more in player costs than was spent in the previous four years. Then the cap would be mutually re-set in 2015. The clubs would guarantee those 2011-2014 numbers even if revenue did not meet projections. Clubs actually spent $140.6 million in 2009 and $138.4 million in 2010 on salary and benefits. So the $141 million proposed cap for 2011 was higher than the actual cash spending of 2009 and 2010.

Smith: “This lockout will cost every team’s city $160 million in lost revenue for a year. $160 million.”

FACT: Those numbers were conclusively refuted by independent economists in a story by Eric Stirgus of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact.com and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Stirgus consulted a number of experts and posted links to four of the economic impact studies he reviewed. He concluded: “Each independent expert we talked to believed there will be little economic impact if there is no NFL action next season, since they believe people will find other ways to spend their money. We rate the NFL Players Association’s claim as False.”

Smith: “The fundamental principle of our business model necessarily includes that every player only plays for an average of 3.2 years.”

FACT: The average career length for a player who spends at least three games in one season on the active and/or inactive rosters and/or injured reserve is 5.3 years. In addition, the average career length for a first-round draft pick is 9.3 years.

Smith: “You have a group of owners who don’t want financial transparency, who don’t want us to understand the true financial picture of football.”

FACT: The NFL publicly released its proposal to the players on March 11. We offered to show the union five years (2005-2009) of year-by-year league-wide operating profits based on audited club reports reviewed and confirmed by Deloitte & Touche. We offered to show the union the number of clubs that had declines in operating profits from 2005-2009, and by how much on a cumulative basis, again based on audited financial statements. We offered the NFLPA the ability to review Deloitte’s work. We also offered to give five years (2005-2009) of audited individual club financial statements to a third-party accounting firm to verify for the union the profitability data provided to the union. And there were no conditions put on the information offered, meaning that they could have asked for more.  But the union’s concern was giving up its public relations position. As linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer wrote in an NBC Chicago blog post on April 1, “It’s true, the NFL did offer some financial info towards the end of mediation. We rejected it, not because nothing is better than something, which it is not, but because the perception would then be that we got what we needed.”

NFL Charities awards $1 million in grants to current & former players as part of annual player foundation grants

NFL Charities, the charitable foundation of the National Football League, has awarded $1 million in grants to support 87 charitable foundations of current and former players.

Players receiving grants this year include New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Kansas City Chiefs guard Brian Waters and former players Derrick Brooks, Kurt Warner and Steve Young.  The grants, which are distributed in amounts up to $50,000, are part of NFL Charities’ annual player foundation grant initiative.

“We are proud to support current and former player foundations and applaud all players’ efforts to make their communities healthy, happy, and safe,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, president of the NFL Charities board of directors.

The NFL has long supported players’ philanthropic endeavors, and NFL Charities has awarded more than $17 million to player foundations over the course of two decades.  Current and retired players that have received NFL Charities grants in previous years include Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, free agent Jason Taylor and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and former players Troy Aikman and Dan Marino.

NFL Charities is a non-profit organization created by the 32 member clubs of the National Football League to enable the teams to collectively make grants to charitable and worthwhile causes on a national scale. Since its inception, NFL Charities has granted more than $140 million to more than 1,400 different organizations. NFL Charities’ primary funding categories include: sports-related medical research and education grants; player foundation grants in support of the philanthropic work of current and former NFL players; impact grants to support national youth health and fitness education initiatives as part of a league-wide commitment to fight childhood obesity; financial assistance for former NFL players in need via direct support to the NFL Player Care Foundation; and team program grants that supplement the charitable and community activities of the 32 NFL clubs.
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